If you’ve been tuning into the action from the Mad To Live Retreats x The Surf Experience weeks in the stunning, golden hued, lemon-tree scented shores of southern Portugal, your keen eye, like many others, may have been glued to the delicious imagery of the food that is served to the guests, and to the effusive and brilliant chef, Rachel Snow.
With so many of you commenting on the formidable culinary force and her mouth-watering creations that are served up to hungry retreaters during the week, I thought it was high time to sit Rachel down for a chat, to find out a little more about the woman behind the incredible food of Mad To Live x The Surf Experience retreats. Settle down for a chat with the incomparable Rachel Snow.
Hailing from Newcastle Upon Tyne, Rachel Snow’s sunny and infectious energy has captured the attention of not just the guests but those tuning into the action of Mad To Live Retreats x The Surf Experience in Portugal. Her incredible, heaped-up platters of seasonal-focussed fare have been a clear highlight of many of the guests staying, hungry hands devouring slow roasted trays of tender lamb drizzled with pomegranates, roasted tomato tarts, frozen berry cheesecakes and home-made paellas.
A now avid surfer, Rachel had travelled and lived through the Bahamas, Northern Ireland and India, before a holiday in Sri Lanka 5 years ago and a first try at surfing ignited an enduring passion for surf. Admitting that she was “blown away by it” after her first time surfing, Rachel then came on holiday to Portugal, where surfings loving touch continued to cast its spell over her, “I just couldn’t believe how surfing affected me…” she explains.
A two months work placement led her to realise that “Portugal was for me, Lagos was the life surfing every day, beat any other options”. 5 years down the line, she is a seminal force of the Surf Experience, Europe’s longest standing surf and lifestyle camp, where her meals are the stuff of legends. It might seem hard to believe but it has only been in those last 5 years that Rachel really began to flex her culinary muscles, where “it developed, or where I realised I have a real interest in it”.
The larder that is Portugal’s local produce clearly is a huge influence in Rachel’s cooking. When describing her style, she admits that “it’s definitely seasonal, I think when I came here I really enjoyed cooking. I always loved fresh flavours, loved the Thai influence, chillies… But to come here and be surrounded by fruit trees and pomegranates and lemons and whatever you want, you can pick and eat and it taste so amazing, …I think my style has developed from having everything on your doorstep and putting flavours together”.
"I think the most important thing here is that food tastes how it should taste. You don’t need to complicate it, you don’t need to add too many things. You just let the ingredients speak for themselves."
I ask her what she would recommend to people who are keen to introduce a more seasonal style to their cooking, it can be a minefield when wondering how and where to start? "I think definitely go find your local farmers markets. I think everywhere in the UK you've got places you can go and get fresh, seasonal, organic... have a look on the internet what grows when. I go to the market and I look for the boxes with Portugal on them."
From a nutrition perspective, on Mad To Live Retreats, with the abundance of daily activities including long surf sessions, trail running, horse-riding, mountain biking, yoga, boxing, and sometimes dancing at night, keeping the guests energised and fuelled is critical. The well-thought out menu takes this into account, and I ask Rachel to explain "I think it comes from the fact that I’m very energetic as well, I like to surf as well every day. I also know what my body needs to allow me to spend hours in the water plus do a job."
Wondering what the woman herself would eat to fuel herself for a long session in the surf, Rachel ruminates "I like to have soaked oats with lots of nuts, fruit, or some eggs, avocados, especially when its in season here, they are amazing...I just don’t think overload with sugary, quick energy breakfast, have something which is going to slowly burn and keep you satisfied until lunch time." And post-surfing recovery? "I love a smoothie, frozen bananas, when I get back, put some oats in, frozen fruit quite often when they are seasonal, peaches now...I cut them up and put them in the freezer and put them in smoothies."
During the retreats Rachel is a pretty integral force, and I pry as to how she feels about the experience of it? “You come away feeling so empowered, it's really good energy. You meet so many fun, interesting people “. Something commonly noted and near discernible from both the food Rachel lovingly serves, and even in the content captured of her in action, is that she pours so much good energy and love into what she is doing. I ask her if she agrees with that:
“I definitely think that’s my secret ingredient. I love my job, I love having so many people kind of appreciate what I do...(and) how it makes people feel. I definitely feel that the love I put into the food is kind of the most important factor.”
This is clearly the emphasis on Rachel’s cooking and the food on offer at Mad To Live Retreats and The Surf Experience. Fusing a wholesome approach to food, with a core understanding of what is needed for the guests to stay energised and recover, and ultimately, an enjoyment of food, and of spending time savouring local flavours and feasting together as a crew, is a key part of the experience.
And finally, what would be her last meal on this fine planet of ours be? "I love a nice spicy Thai laksa…starter...I love a chicken liver pate. Weirdly, I don’t think that would go with the laksa!…Dessert…. custard! I love custard (laughs) Cocktails? Definitely a good, strong margarita!"
A woman after our own heart!
Keep reading to check out two of Rachel's recipes!
Summer salad of roasted broccoli and macerated veggies
2 heads of broccoli
1 pepper ( colour of your choice)
Half small white cabbage
Mange tout/ green beans/ asparagus is readily available
Nuts of choice
1 red chilli
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
Sugar/ salt/ pepper
White wine vinegar
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Finally slice half small white cabbage and put in a bowl with a spoon of coriander seeds. In a bowl mix 1 tablespoon of sugar in half a cup of cold water. Add 2 tsp oops salt and a slosh of ww vinegar. Mix until sugar and salt has dissolved then taste. It shouldn't taste too sweet or to vinegary. Add to the cabbage and massage with your hands. This can be left for a few hours or overnight in the fridge. Cut the broccoli in bite size florets and put in a bowl. Add 1 chop chilli, salt, pepper a slosh of olive oil and zest of one lemon. Mix with your hands to make sure it is all coated and place on a oven tray.
Put in a pre heated oven (190 ) and set the timer for 4 half minutes. ( I like my broccoli crunchy but if you prefer it softer add another 45 secs). If using nuts or seeds place on a oven tray and place in oven. Different seeds take different times to roast so check every 5 minutes. If pressed for time just chop roughly and don't roast although it does effect the flavour. Wash your ur raw veg and then prepare.
Half the courgette and using a spoon scrape the softed seedy part of the inside out. Then dice the remaining courgette to small cube size. If using green beans blanch in boiling water for 45 secs and cool under cold water. I tend to eat mange tout, asparagus raw and chopped but it is a personal taste. Chop the pepper into strips.
Take 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard and add half cup of cold water. Mix throughly then add a small slosh of olive oil. Place all the veg ingredients into a bowl and pour over the dressing. Mix throughly with your hands and sprinkle the nuts over the top.
This is a versatile salad that can have anything added or taken away depending on preference. Good additions: blueberries, feta, olive, water cress, chickpeas.
Chilled Avocado Soup
Coconut Oil/Sesame oil
Half a pint chicken or vegetable stock
1 to 2 ripe avocados
Juice of 1 lime
Toasted seeds/fresh corn topping
This soup can be eaten hot or cold. I prefer it room temperature!
Sauté a small diced onion in oil of choice until it is translucent and soft, I like coconut oil or sesame oil.
Make half pint of veg or chicken stock and put in fridge to cool down. Scoop out one/2 ripe avocados depending on the consistency you want into your blender, add stock, one chilli, juice of 1 lime and blend. Check for seasoning...add more lime/ chilli as desired. I add toasted seed and some fresh raw corn for texture, but you can freestyle with things like spinach, cucumber ( both will add liquid to end result.) add a little Greek yogurt for extra creaminess. I haven't tried it but I imagine that this can also be frozen to be used at a later date.
All imagery Hannah Edy side for group Mad To Live shot, surf and recipes
To sample Rachel's epic cuisine for yourself, Mad To Live Retreats x The Surf Experience only has 3 spots left in 3 retreats over September - find out more here & book and stay tuned for new dates for 2018!
STAY TUNED FOR MORE IN THE WHY I SERIES, LANDING SOON...